MoboReader> Literature > The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi

   Chapter 5 THE FIRST NIGHT AFLOAT

The Outdoor Chums on a Houseboat; Or, The Rivals of the Mississippi By Quincy Allen Characters: 10075

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Hard a-port!" the pilot of the river boat was calling.

Fortunately, that was just what Frank had started to do. Had his judgment been at all defective in the start, all would have been lost; for there was certainly no time to reverse, and go the other way.

It was quite an exciting time. Will managed to "snap" the three boys straining at that clumsy big steering oar called the "sweep"; with the towboat apparently dead ahead. It would, doubtless, give him an odd little creep every time he looked at the picture; for of the quartette Will was more inclined to be timid than any of his chums.

Of course the river boat had shut off steam, and was no longer pushing hard up against the current. Indeed, her stern wheel even began to churn the water wildly, in the endeavor to back, and thus at least lessen the blow, if one had to follow.

It was the onward rush of the houseboat with the current that proved the most dangerous factor in the matter; for there was no means of staying the progress of the Pot Luck.

Closer still they came; and Will even gripped a portion of the gunwale of the floating craft, under the impression that a collision was about due; when all of a sudden some new freak of the current seemed to seize the apparently doomed houseboat, for with a whirl the Pot Luck started on a new tack.

They passed so close to the side of the towboat that any one of the boys might, had they so desired, thrust out a hand, and touched the planking.

Frank sighed with relief, to realize that after all their voyage was not fated to be nipped in the bud at the very start.

"Hurrah!" cried Bluff; but his voice was too weak for the sound to be much louder than a hoarse croak.

The pilot was shaking his fist at them from above as they swept past, and uttering hard words. Little they cared for what he said, since every boyish heart was full of thanksgiving, after the scare. Possibly they were in the wrong, since the channel seemed to be no place for a helpless houseboat likely to be met at any time by an up-river tow that would stretch from side to side.

"Whew! that was a narrow escape, though!" Jerry exclaimed, as he fell back, panting for breath after his labor at the sweep.

"It ought to teach us a lesson while we're on the upper Mississippi," Frank remarked, himself willing to rest a bit from his labors.

"You don't mean, I hope, that we ought to learn to talk back, so as to give these river pilots as good as they send?" ventured Will, now recovering from his attack of the "shakes," and hoping none of his mates had noticed how pale he had been.

"That would take years of practice, even if a fellow wanted to try it," replied Frank, with a nervous little laugh. "No, what I meant was this: while the river is as small as it is now, with only a certain channel for big boats to follow, we must keep nearer the shore, and out of the passage. Then we'll stand no danger of being run down, you see."

"Oh!" remarked Bluff, with uplifted eyebrows; "that's the way it stands, eh? And I was dead sure the fault all lay with that sleepy pilot, He must have been taking a nap, not to see us, till it was nearly too late to keep from smashing into us."

"Well, I hardly believe it was as bad as that," Frank affirmed. "He had a pipe between his teeth when he poked his head up, and I imagine he must have stooped just to light it, so as to be out of the wind. But I hope it will be a long day before we have another shave as close as that one."

There were still a couple of hours of daylight left before evening would descend upon them, and they considered it good policy to keep on the move for some time yet. When the sun had set they could look for a promising place at which to tie up, and spend the coming night.

To these boys, accustomed as they were to a small lake, and a stream connected with the same that was hardly more than a creek, the upper Mississippi seemed particularly grand. It was a noble river, with very picturesque shores, and something new attracting their eager attention with almost every passing minute.

Later on in the voyage, when they were navigating the lower stretches of the mighty river, its vastness might appal them, but could never excite their admiration as this early part of the cruise did.

There were not many vessels afloat at this stage. Navigation does not begin to show such bustle above Cairo as below the junction city, where the flood of the Ohio is the first considerable body of water to join forces with the Mississippi.

Still, to these boys from the interior, there was much to see; and one or the other seemed to be calling out perpetually, drawing attention to certain features of the landscape on either bank, the river itself, or some craft that appeared in view.

True to his word, Jerry, at a certain hour, vanished within the cabin; and presently smoke ascending from the pipe that projected above the flat roof announced that the first stage of supper had been taken.

By slow degrees Frank was working

the boat in toward the shore on which it had been decided to pass the night. This being their first experience aboard such a craft, he believed that they had better take no risks of losing a good chance for anchoring to a friendly tree.

True, there did seem to be an anchor aboard, to be used in an emergency; but Frank had learned from Mr. Whittaker that the best way for tying up for the night was to find some means of using the stout cable. And he had also been warned to beware of getting into a shallow creek; since the river has a mean way of sometimes dropping half a foot during a single night; and in consequence they might find the houseboat stranded until another rise came along, which, in summer time, might not be for several weeks.

Perhaps the delightful aroma that began to drift out of the partly open cabin door helped to urge Frank to hasten. At any rate, in less than half an hour after Jerry disappeared, the clumsy boat was pushed in close to the overhanging shore, and nimble Bluff clambered up the bank, to whip the cable-end twice around an accommodating tree that happened to be growing just where it would prove of greatest use to the young river cruisers.

After that there was really little to do. Bluff got out a couple of fish lines and proceeded to cast them from the stern, having secured a piece of meat from the cook with which to bait them.

Before they went to bed he had hauled in quite a good-sized channel catfish, an ugly, dark-skinned creature, with keen pointed spikes along his spine, which Frank warned them must be avoided unless they wished to have a poisoned hand. Yet uninviting as the fish looked, the boys all pronounced it good eating when, in the morning, they had it for breakfast.

Night settled down about them as Jerry announced that supper was ready. The illumination of the interior of the cabin was not all that they could wish, and more than one complaint was heard as they sat around the table, which when not in use could be dropped so that it lay along the wall.

"I think I saw a big lamp somewhere about," Frank declared; "and to-morrow I'll see what I can do with it. Yes, there's where it used to hang, right over the table. If it can be made to work it ought to give us plenty of light. Bring out the two lanterns we made sure to fetch along, Bluff; with their help we might get on for one night."

Indeed, they were all so happy that it would take many shortcomings of this type to disturb them to any great extent.

It had really been a whole year now since the Outdoor Chums had enjoyed an outing together, because of being away at college. Old memories thronged their minds as they sat there, enjoying that first meal, and the talk was connected with many events of the past.

"I haven't had such a feed all the time I've been away from home," declared Bluff. "And, Jerry, honest now, I really begin to believe that you have improved in your cooking more'n a little."

Jerry fell into the trap in a way that made Frank smile behind his hand.

"A little!" he echoed, warmly; "why, I'm going to surprise the lot of you pretty soon. You wait and see. I used to be a greenhorn, and do things just in the old rough and ready camp way; but now I've studied the scientific methods of a chef. And I've got a whole lot of messes I'm going to ring on you fellows sooner or later."

"If they're as good as what you gave us to-night, you can't begin too soon," remarked Bluff, keeping his face straight; though Frank saw him send a sly wink in his direction once or twice.

All of the boys were tired, and anxious to try their bunks. These were ranged along one side of the cabin wall, two and two, "Pullman style," as Bluff called it.

They had brought their own blankets along, because it was not known whether the boat was supplied. Plenty were found aboard in a box; but they smelled so strongly of camphor that the boys preferred to use their own.

Frank was the last one to crawl in. He had taken a turn on deck to see that all was well, and no peril hanging over them from a break in the cable. This uneasiness of the first night afloat would soon wear away, of course; when the boys might be able to take things as they came without worrying about anything.

Frank felt very comfortable in his bunk, and soon snuggled down to sleep. He lay there for half an hour or more, however, the situation was so novel to him; but finally it must have passed away.

Some time later he awoke, and in the darkness was for the moment unable to place himself. He could hear the other boys breathing hard, and also the gurgle of the river as it swirled past the blunt end of the beamy houseboat.

Then Frank received a sudden shock. Plainly he heard someone try the door of the cabin from without, as though a prowler had dropped on the deck of the Pot Luck, and was endeavoring to find an entrance; bent on stealing some of the goods which the young voyagers had loaded up with, when making their start on the long cruise down the Mississippi.

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